The Doll has Matured like Fine Wine
Review by John Harris
There’s something very reassuring about La Boite Theatre's production of Summer of the 17th Doll. Like a good wine, Ray Lawler's play has matured, its perception sharpened with the passage of some 30 years since it burst on the Australian theatre scene. And director Don Batchelor clearly knows how to serve a good wine, for this production of The Doll is the most enjoyable and the most astute to come this way in ages.
Lawler’s play is deservedly regarded as a classic, notably because it captured the essence of the Australian outlook and spirit as no other playwright had done before - and perhaps none since.
The story of a pair of cane-cutters who, for 16 years, have been spending their lay-off summers in Melbourne, Lawler's play painted a somewhat devastating picture of the laid-back, let's-have-a great-time Aussie. The title comes from the cane-cutter's custom of bringing a carnival doll to his girlfriend as something of a love token of their traditional summer idylls. It is in the summer of the 17th doll that it all starts to go wrong.
Don Batchelor has cast his in-the-round production well. Lisa Hickey is a vibrant, intense Olive, a not-so young Melbourne woman who for years has lived a fantasy of daydreams centred around the annual five-month lay-off season of Queensland cane workers, Roo and Barney.
As Roo and his mate Barney, Peter Knapman and James Kable are equally well cast, with Kable, in particular, bringing a neat subtlety to the wise-cracking Barney, who nevertheless always knows which way the wind is blowing.
And Lesley McLennan gives a beautiful, controlled, laconic Pearl, the outsider, brought in to replace Nancy, the traditional fourth member of the quartet.
Then there is Bev Langford's Emma. Unexpectedly, this Emma is full of bounce and spirit, who right from her opening scene has the audience in the palm of her hand.
Finally, there is Kate Murray with her sensitive young Bubba, and Paul Bishop as Dowd, the young buck who unwittingly brings Roo to realise that time is passing on.
All told, it's a perfect cast, beautifully controlled in a production of The Doll that is at once invigorating, moving, absorbing and perhaps even memorable.
The Sun, 12 August 1988
Courtesy Bev Langford